"Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories." — Sun Tzu
Guide linked on Google Docs, as well.
Table of Contents:
II. Basics of the Class
III. Martial Archetypes
IX. Builds and Combos
This guide will use the following ratings:
Red is dead. A choice that either adds nothing of value to your character or might even actively hurt it.
Purple is a substandard choice. It might be useful in corner-case situations, but overall it's not worth the investment.
Black is average. You're not hurting your character by taking this, and it might even help in some situations, but there are better choices.
Blue is a good choice. It definitely helps your character in the majority of cases.
Sky Blue is a fantastic choice. An option you should strongly consider above most others.
Gold is mandatory. It's a rare rating that denotes something that is so good that you must take it, or you can't call yourself optimized.
This guide takes from the following sources:
PHB - Player’s Handbook
MM - Monster Manual
DMG - Dungeon Master’s Guide
EEPC - Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
SCAG - Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
VGM – Volo's Guide to Monsters
XGTE - Xanathar's Guide to Everything
MTOF - Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
*** Note: Material from Unearthed Arcana is always considered playtest material and will not be rated in this guide. But feel free to discuss it in the thread.
What's a Fighter?
Original name Fighting-Man, the Fighter is and has always been the character that wields the most weapons and the best weapons, with the durability to stay up front and face down the enemy (assuming they're not using bows, instead), put out the most reliable damage, and occupy the enemy's attention away from the spellcasters and the rogues.
The Fighter always gets the most attacks per round of any other character classes (at least without any buffing spells). It's definitely been true as early as AD&D 1e. Later in that edition's life, with Unearthed Arcana, the Fighter got Weapon Specialization to get more extra attacks and an additional edge when using a specific weapon. That carried on into 2e, with Weapon Specialization being the main reason one would still play a Fighter even if one had the stats for a Paladin or Ranger. When those latter two classes got something similar to Specialization in a later supplement, Combat & Tactics, the Fighter got a few better still with Mastery on up to Grand Mastery. Grand Master Fighters were a real terror.
In 3e, the Fighter's skill with weapons and combat techniques were represented by getting a bonus feat every other level. Unfortunately, the 3e system never let the Fighter excel. Aside from the spellcasters' blatant overpoweredness and ability to actually fight better than Fighters with the right buffs, the Fighter's extra attacks were represented by ever-decreasing iterative attacks that made all of them after about the second unlikely to hit most of the time. And furthermore, the Fighter only got those attacks if they didn't move anything more than a 5-foot step. Needless to say, that hamstrung the Fighter. A later supplement called Tome of Battle introduced the Warblade, which was essentially a Fighter that was much more functional in the 3e framework, thanks to maneuvers letting them stay on the move while still doing good damage and producing worthwhile effects on the battlefield.
4e expanded on the concept introduced in Tome of Battle, which was good, but shoehorned the Fighter into being *entirely* a heavily armored melee combatant. It was almost unanimously considered the strongest of the Defender classes in that edition, with the ability to put out nearly as much damage as Strikers (in some cases more). However, anyone wanting to play an archer or a light-armored combat character needed to play a Ranger or a Rogue, instead.
Strong as the Fighter was in 4e, some found maneuvers too restrictive and reinventing the wheel for no real reason. Maneuvers, along with a few feats here and there, were the only way to get the Fighter to make the extra attacks the class had been capable of all along, and maneuvers that let the Fighter do that were considered among the best. Along with a few "anime-ish" type powers like the infamous Come and Get It, the Fighter's top powers were easy to identify, thus crumbling the illusion of choice. Later on, in Essentials, simpler Fighters, the Knight and Slayer, were introduced to half-heartedly invoke the old "I hit it with my sword" feel.
5e compromises among the past editions when it can, and this is no clearer than when looking at the Fighter class. The Fighter is capable of multiattacking all the time, with the same attack bonus everytime, like in AD&D except even better since they get all those attacks on their turns. They can move at any point between their attacks; if they have nothing else in common with the 3e Warblade, they can at least utilize their motion without sacrificing their offense. One archetype lets the Fighter just "hit it with its sword" every time, while other archetypes have substantially more complexity (though it's very much debated whether that complexity is satisfactory for 4e and Tome of Battle fans). And last but not least, once again Fighters can be built as lightly armored characters and archers ... and do very well at it this time.
In short, if you want to make the most attacks with your weapon out of any class in the game, which translates to some of the highest consistent damage output in the game, the Fighter is your class in 5e. Helping that along are abilities to self-heal, reroll the occasional failed save, and take either more feats or more attribute increases than anyone in the game.
Strengths and weaknesses
- Highest overall damage output in the game, being good at both sustained damage per round and at burst damage. Some Barbarians will come within shouting distance in baseline DPR, but they have no reliable burst damage. Some Paladins will come reasonably close in burst damage, but their baseline DPR lacks. You excel at both.
- Durable. With a d10 hit die, self-healing feature, proficiency in all armors, and the most chances to take feats, you'll have no problem staying upright if you build and play right.
- Single-attribute dependent. Fighters really only need to maximize one of Strength or Dexterity (depending on what their main weapon and style are). And on top of that, they get the most ability score improvements out of any classes.
- Incredible build diversity. With the SAD, high number of ability score improvements and their mechanics, Fighters can be built many ways, all of them effective.
- A bit on the weak side when making Opportunity Attacks or other attacks with their reactions, or when attacking with Readied actions. Fighters' damage output comes largely from the number of attacks that they make on their turns, rather than the damage of those individual attacks. Barbarians, Paladins and especially Rogues are better in this category.
- Compared to other classes Fighters are still mostly lacking in the non-combat pillars of play. (Though thanks to backgrounds they ARE better at this than they were in previous editions.)